Community journalism in Stittsville and Goulbourn is losing an avid proponent and advocate.
That’s because long time Stittsville News reporter and photographer John Brummell is retiring as of this Friday, Jan. 13.
And while Friday, the 13th is considered by some as an unlucky day, nothing could be farther from the truth for John Brummell who is looking forward to retirement years in which he will do some of the things which he has not been able to do in a working career going back over 50 years and particularly in the community journalism part of that career, a part featuring lots of weekend and evening work.
So this will mean more time for gardening, one of the great passions in his life, for doing things around the house that he has not had time to do over the years, perhaps for some travel driving in the United States, for walking the dog and for simply enjoying life.
And for John, enjoying life means one thing – socializing.
“Whatever I do, I want to meet people or be around people,” he says, “not just sit on my porch.”
And indeed, it has been this ability to connect with people that has made John not just a community newspaper worker but a friend and supporter of many of those he has covered over the years.
So his coverage of the annual Richmond Fair, for example, has included not just being on site and covering Fair events like the 4H livestock shows but also has seen him become something like a Fair guide, chatting with fair-goers and helping them find a certain attraction and even giving some a lift in the golf cart that he has had use of to get around the fairgrounds. He at one time even sat on the Fair’s Board of Directors and given his love of the Fair, it would not be surprising to see him once again return to the Fair Board as one of his retirement activities.
“Covering the Fair over the years has been an absolute joy,” he says.
Over the years, John has also become a familiar face and presence in Stittsville and area schools (11 of them, by his count) and this experience has given him a great admiration and respect for the school staffs including principals, office administrators and teachers. He admits to being totally awed by the respect which they have shown him over the years and the freedom that they have given him in doing his newspaper coverage in the schools.
And, in addition, he notes that his experience in covering the schools has shown him that today’s youth are for the most part amazing, not at all like the very few bad ones who may generate negative press coverage from time to time.
John has also extensively covered 4H activities over the years, not only at the annual Richmond and Carp Fairs but also at the annual 4H judging nights and at the annual year-end awards banquets. This has resulted in his great admiration for those involved with 4H, both leaders and 4H members, whom he calls “my heroes.” He notes the way that youth involved with 4H are able to balance home and school life while also helping out on the farm and preparing animals for 4H shows. And leaders like Barb Fraser, Cindy Brown, Herb Henderson and Sandra Wytenburg equally win his admiration as they work tirelessly year after year to provide a 4H experience for the youth involved.
John’s admiration for 4H extends beyond the 4H program to the farming community in general.
“Farm families warm my heart,” he says.
And indeed, the feeling is mutual. At this year’s 4H livestock show at the Richmond Fair, as John was doing his job, taking photos of 4H’ers in the ring showing their calves, the announcer pointed out his presence and praised his ongoing work supporting 4H activities and endeavours.
Another community group that has earned John’s support and admiration over the years as he has covered its activities has been the Goulbourn Skating Club. In fact, there are now two trophies that are among those presented at the Club’s year-end banquet which bear John’s name. He is most proud of this because through his coverage of the Club for the paper, he has come to see and admire its commitment to the youth of the community. He is particularly impressed with the way that the Club has developed its program for special needs skaters, a program that is now flourishing after the Club saw the need for it and took the chance on implementing it.
Then there's the Stittsville and Richmond firefighters with whom John has developed a rapport over the years. He has especially enjoyed covering the annual Canada Day seniors breakfasts hosted by the Stittsville firefighters in the fire hall on Stittsville Main Street. But whether it is at a fire scene or a firefighter event or the seniors breakfast, John says that he has always received the greatest cooperation and assistance from the firefighters. And he in turn has the greatest respect and admiration for their efforts, believing that they are the epitome of community involvement and support.
And so it goes, with all of those groups and individuals which John has covered over the years in his work with the Stittsville News. Be it business owners or clergy or coaches or others, he has found that they have all treated him warmly and with respect as he has gone about doing his job in the community.
Indeed, he says that he has found it “refreshing and invigorating to be able to deal with good people” over the years and this has been a key to why he has kept doing it for so long, right up to age 74. He says that if he does feel somewhat down at the beginning of a day, the feeling does not last as he goes about doing his job in schools or elsewhere in the community. He says that when he emerges from these places, he is “like walking on air.” He says that if the job were drudgery or depressing, he definitely would not have done it for so long.
But he has always found it uplifting and credits this partly for the good health that he has enjoyed over the years.
And the job has brought him into contact with celebrities from time to time. These have included impersonator Rich Little, figure skater Elizabeth Manley and Olympic gold medal wrestler Erica Wiebe whom he covered over the years. He was there at the Ottawa airport last August when Erica returned home after her win at the Rio Olympics.
“What a joy to meet her as she got off the plane,” John recalls, noting as well that he was the first journalist to interview her in the ensuing media scrum.
John did not start out his working life as a journalist and indeed it might have been the farthest thing from his mind when he first went to work as a teenager in 1960 in the silver-plating factory in Trenton where his father also worked in a 50-year career.
Born in 1942 in Trenton with two sister siblings, John was only at the silver-plating factory for a short while before joining the Air Force with a friend in Aug. 1961 in a “spur of the moment” decision. He was directed to the medical corps which had major repercussions on his life. For one thing, his future wife Rosemary was also in the medical corps, albeit the army medical corps, and they were soon together. In addition, they were posted to the National Defense Medical Centre in Ottawa, living in barracks at the Rockcliffe base. This not only brought them to Ottawa but also in 1965 saw John switch from the armed forces to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as a result of a chance contact with a patient at the National Defense Medical Centre.
His job turned out to be with the security service of the Mounties. They wanted people who looked like ordinary Canadians and not the tall fit people who were the typical RCMP recruits. John fit this “ordinary” criteria and he went on to enjoy a 28 year career with the Mounties, retiring in 1993. During this time with the Mounties, he was immersed in the Cold War, keeping track of foreign diplomats, was involved with the FLQ crisis, was a team leader with a fleet of six vehicles and staff under his direction, was a master report writer, was a technical advisor and was a purchaser of communication equipment.
Indeed, John now says that these years with the Mounties proved invaluable in doing the job in community journalism because much of his work in the Mounties forced him to concentrate on actions and assessing people. These are traits that he has found so very helpful in working in community journalism.
But how did this jump to community journalism after retirement from the Mounties happen?
Well, John had moved to Stittsville in 1967 because both he and his wife Rosemary has grown up in small towns and wanted to live in a smaller community where they could participate in community activities and be part of the community. He became a ham radio enthusiast (which he remains to this day) and in 1978, when taking part in a ham radio marathon contest, he was visited by John Curry of the Stittsville News for an article.
The two “Johns” crossed paths again a little later when John Brummell, then a member of the Stittsville District Lions Club, provided a photo to the paper of a Lions activity at the recent Lions convention (it happened to be a photo of a pair of Lions carrying a case of beer across a field but that’s a story for another time). In any case, the photo did get published and John was advised at the time that he was welcome to submit more photos in the future.
Taking photos was nothing new for John as his experience in the Mounties involved some photographic work of a clandestine nature, especially during the FLQ crisis but at other times as well, all as part of surveillance required by such a security service.
In any case, John would drop into the Stittsville News office from time to time and this led to what became an annual “assignment”, as it were, for a number of years and that was taking photographs in the community on Hallowe’en night.
He would be accompanied on this task by his young daughter Deborah whose job it was to hold a flashlight and shine it on the costumed youngsters while her father focused in on the shot. Otherwise he could not properly focus the camera in the darkness of the night.
And every Halloween he and Deborah would make the circuit of Goulbourn communities, starting off in Ashton when it was just getting dark. After photos there, it was off to Munster for more photos and then off to Richmond for yet more photos. And then finally it was back to Stittsville to take photos in various parts of the village. It was a hectic few hours but it resulted in an annual two-page spread in the paper. And, as John says, “it was fun.”
So John and his photographic talents were well known to the Stittsville News when John retired from the Mounties in 1993. John had intended to fully retire and indeed for about a year that’s what he did. But he had once mentioned to John Curry over a beer that he would love to take photos for the paper and this is what happened. He was asked if he wanted some work and the rest is history – 24 years of community journalism work with the Stittsville News.
When John Curry sold the Stittsville News to Fred Runge of Renfrew in 2001, both of them stayed on with the paper, which also happened when Fred Runge sold the paper to Metroland Media in 2004. And now John is retiring.
And in looking back on his 24 years in community journalism, John notes that covering the community means becoming involved in the community. He says that he has always tried to cover and feature the positive in the community, noting that negative news can never be fresh in a community paper as it is scooped up by other media including daily papers, television and radio and publicized well before a community newspaper can go to press.
But there is so much happening in a community that is positive and interesting that can’t be found in other media and that can only be found in a community newspaper like the Stittsville News, John says. So whether is it covering figure skating or the local Fair or a concert or special events, the paper builds up a connection with the community. The community trusts the paper and its journalists to do a good job and reflect the community, he says.
He further notes that a community newspaper supports and promotes the community and gives it a face while encouraging residents to get involved, either as community volunteers or by attending events such as the Stittsville Parade of Lights.
The community newspaper can provide coverage of the community that can only be found in its pages and that is why people look for the paper every week, to find out what has happened and what will be happening in the community, John says. And in so doing, a community journalist can bring some happiness to people, providing coverage for something that means a lot to them.
“It tickles you to realize you are making somebody happy,” John says in explaining how articles and photos about community activities and events that bring joy to someone can be so fulfilling.
John admits that being a community journalist and especially a long time one like himself does lead to recognition. He notes that when shopping at Brown’s Your Independent Grocer in Stittsville, he runs into many who say “hello” to him, recognizing him from his journalism work in the community. And he also runs into folks who tell him how he took their photo a number of years ago.
Indeed, at the recent dance show at South Carleton High School which he was covering, John was told by the dance teacher, a former South Carleton student herself, that John had taken her photograph in the dance show a number of years previously.
And John is confident that community journalism in the area will continue to flourish. He is most impressed with the attitude, work ethic and camaraderie of the current editorial staff at Metroland Media and knows that community journalism in Ottawa is in good hands with them on the job.